When my two teenage daughters say they are from Albania, they’re sometimes asked: ‘Is your dad a drug dealer?’
When they first told me about it, I felt horrible because no one should have to face discrimination or racism.
As Albanian asylum seekers living in the UK, this is very sad for us. All we want is to feel safe, but that is impossible in our home country.
I come from a beautiful place, but there are lots of problems – mostly as a result of government corruption.
Bills are extremely high in Albania and people get desperate. There is organised crime everywhere and some are under threat because of this – gangs might want to kill them for money.
For women, sometimes their husbands treat them badly – they force them to work in modern slavery. Some are forced into sex work.
As for me, my ex-husband was abusive and an alcoholic, but the police did not protect me. The thing is, I couldn’t go to the police station to make a report because there was corruption. My husband had too many friends working there so I couldn’t trust them.
So I knew I had to take my two daughters and flee to the UK.
My friends helped me to get in the lorry and we made the journey in stages – there were several men with us too.
How to get out was the most difficult thing because the driver didn’t know we were inside. We had to jump off the lorry when the driver stopped for some food and I was afraid we would get injured.
Luckily, one of the other men did it first and he helped my daughters to emerge safely. When we arrived in the UK, I was like, ‘OK, now I can breathe normally.’
After that, I searched on my phone for a police station near me and I went there with my daughters. I was worried, but the police were very kind and nice. This is when I claimed asylum.
We stayed at the police station until late at night and then the Home Office put us in a hostel.
Unfortunately, I still don’t have my asylum status yet.
When I came here, I felt safe. For my daughters, it was hard because we didn’t know anyone and we had to go to a hostel. They were young so it was difficult with that environment.
As an asylum seeker, I am not allowed to work, and we don’t have access to a bank account, so we can’t pay for things easily. You need bank account details for most things, like bills and internet access.
For me, when I’m granted my status, I want to study because my goal is to be a teaching assistant. It might be difficult, but I hope I will achieve it.
A few months after I arrived, I enrolled in an English class. One day, the teacher said that someone from the Refugee Council was coming to talk about their work helping refugees and people in the asylum system.
When they arrived, I said that I was interested in volunteering to help. I wasn’t doing anything, so I was happy to be involved.
I went to do an interpreter course. Then the Refugee Council held a drop-in for people who needed advice, so I helped people there to see a GP or to find accommodation.
I was the only Albanian interpreter locally so I ended up interpreting for them all the time. In fact, I won an award from the Marsh Trust for the best volunteer working with refugees and asylum seekers in my area.
Volunteering helps comfort your heart. I’ve even been an interpreter at weddings, and in court. I feel so proud.
Albanian women are amazing. We come to the UK where we look after children and families. Many of the friends I have met here go to work or study.
But it’s also tough for some Albanians. They can’t get a visa so have to work for years to pay for the journey to get here, and can be forced into illegal activity, where they are exploited and abused.
The Government should change the law, and make it easier to work legally while we wait for decisions on our asylum cases.
A few months ago, Suella Braverman said 2022 saw a ‘surge in the number of Albanian arrivals’, then claimed people from my country are abusing ‘modern slavery laws’.
She added: ‘We are working to ensure Albanian cases are processed and individuals are removed as swiftly as possible, sometimes within days.’
But this is unfair – my experience is that many Albanians do need protection to escape from traffickers or abuse, and we want the chance to rebuild our lives and do something positive for our communities.
As a result of these comments, some Albanians protested in London, but we’re already experiencing an ‘alarming rise’ in hostility and suspicion. This is why my children get unkind comments at school.
The Home Office doesn’t see what is really going on, it just hears what the Albanian government says – that Albania is a safe country – but they don’t listen to what people like me are saying.
During a later interview, an officer told me ‘if you start crying, I will stop this interview.’ They made me feel really bad.
It isn’t safe for everyone. There is a big problem with the exploitation of children in Albania and the Albanian Government is not doing enough about it.
It’s not good to judge people because we don’t know their lives or their situation. We see their faces from outside, but we don’t know what is truly going on. We must support people who are in danger and we have to make it easier for them to get education or access English classes.
I want to spread the message: Albanians are not what you think. We love our families and we want to work. We want to have a normal life. We are hospitable and kind-hearted.
The UK itself is amazing and we are so grateful for that, but we are suffering and even dying because of crime and exploitation, and we have to find ways to help people escape from this life, and do something more positive.
We have to make things better.
I hope for safety and good health for my family. My daughters are studying and I’m studying too.
I hope to do another interpreting course, and maybe, once I get my status, to find some work.
The Refugee Council supports refugees in Britain to lead safe, dignified and fulfilling lives, and stands up for the rights of refugees and people seeking asylum here. For more information, go to their website here.
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